It sure hasn’t been easy being a bog turtle lately in North Carolina, much less Gaston County.
Agricultural and urban development have sent the second smallest turtle in the world scrambling. Its waning ecosystem here has made the species harder to spot than Waldo.
But during a recent intensive, two-day search on a nature preserve in Gaston County, a team of biologists came across a total of 10 bog turtles. And with successful reproduction being an all-important component of a species bouncing back, the fact that two of the turtles were juveniles was cause for celebration, said Jacquelyn Guzy, a biologist at nearby Davidson College.
“Seeing evidence of successful reproduction is certainly exciting and noteworthy news,” she said in a news release.
Bog turtles were first observed in 1991 at the Gaston County preserve, which is owned by the Catawba Lands Conservancy. The preserve’s location is not being disclosed to the public, to ensure the turtles’ safety and protection.
Bog turtles have become popular pets, though as a federally protected species, they are forbidden from being traded, sold or kept. The problem is that while they are protected, their habitats are not.
Davidson College herpetology researchers and students have been studying the turtle’s population on the preserve since 2006, with the help of grant funding from Williams-Transco. The population on the local preserve is one of only a few in the North Carolina Piedmont, Guzy said.
Bog turtles are hard to find because they are so small. They have a penchant for wallowing in the mud on specialized wetlands, such as what’s known as bogs and fens. Only a few between the ages of 20 and 35 have been found here in the last six years.
The discovery of 10 turtles and two juveniles by Guzy’s team in late June was significant.
Dr. Michael Dorcas said each turtle is marked, so researchers will know their history in the future. They plan to continue their efforts, using large sticks to probe the mud and vegetative clumps, and using harmless traps with shade covers.
“It’s like searching for a needle in a haystack, but we’ll keep looking throughout the summer,” he said. “We know this group has successfully reproduced twice in the past three years, which is incredibly exciting.”